first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Despite Notre Dame’s success this season, Mike Brey isn’t ready to throw his name in for Big East Coach of the Year. Instead, he’s considering three other coaches for the honor.‘Jim Boeheim has done a fabulous job, and he was picked to do it and he’s delivering it,’ Brey said on the Big East coaches’ teleconference. ‘John Thompson (III) has done a fabulous job because he was picked 10th, and he’s doing a great job and he should be a candidate. And Buzz Williams has done a heck of a job. Those are the three guys in my mind.’But Brey fits his own criteria for coach of the year more than he lets on. Like Georgetown, Notre Dame wasn’t picked to finish at the top of the Big East in the 2011-12 preseason coaches’ poll. The No. 20 Fighting Irish (19-8, 11-3) were picked to finish ninth.Brey also has his team near the top of the Big East, as ND is tied for second in the conference with No. 10 Marquette (22-5, 11-3) heading into the Irish’s Wednesday night game against West Virginia.After losing fifth-year senior and co-captain Tim Abromaitis to a season-ending ACL tear in his right knee early in the season, the Fighting Irish struggled to an 11-8 overall record and 3-3 in the Big East. During a five-game stretch in late November and early December, Notre Dame lost four of five, including blowout losses to Missouri by 29 points and Gonzaga by 20 points.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textBut on Jan. 21, Notre Dame started to turn its season around. The Fighting Irish defeated then-No. 1 Syracuse by nine points. After ND’s 74-70 overtime win at Villanova on Saturday, it’s on an eight-game winning streak with only four games remaining before the Big East tournament, in which the Fighting Irish are hoping to earn a double-bye.Notre Dame is winning with defense this year, a sharp contrast from last year when the team relied more on an explosive offensive. With solid guard play, the Fighting Irish are controlling the tempo of the game, helping them limit opponents’ possessions. In Notre Dame’s 14 conference games, opponents have only scored more than 60 points six times. Two of those games went into at least one overtime.Notre Dame defeated West Virginia 55-51 in Morgantown, W.Va., on Feb. 8, the team’s fifth straight win. It was a game in which the Fighting Irish were able to make three consecutive 3-pointers at the end of the game.‘Notre Dame made big shots,’ West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said in the Big East men’s basketball coaches’ teleconference a day after the four-point loss. ‘… Mike’s done an incredible job with them. They’ve got great spacing, and I think they’re guarding better than they’ve guarded since at least I’ve been in the league.’DePaul head coach Oliver Purnell said Notre Dame’s 2-3 zone and control man-to-man defense has been working well.Notre Dame would go on to win the game against DePaul (11-16, 2-13) for its sixth straight win.‘I’ve been very impressed with their improvement as the season has gone on,’ Purnell said on the Big East coaches’ teleconference Feb. 9. ‘… Obviously, they’ve done a great job of beating some awfully good teams, including Syracuse, Marquette.’Before defeating Marquette 76-59 on Feb. 4, Brey spoke about his team’s improvement in the Feb. 2 Big East men’s basketball coaches’ teleconference.‘I’m really proud of our group to put us — put themselves — in a position they’re in now,’ Brey said. ‘Thinking back to where we were in November and December, we’ve come a long way.’Notre Dame went on to defeat Marquette Feb. 4 and dethroned it as the hottest team in the Big East with a fourth straight win.With the loss of Abromaitis and three other starters from last year’s team, Brey’s team this year has a completely different feel to it.‘(Last year) we could put 80, 85 points on the board in a blink of an eye, and this group is not as explosive offensively,’ Brey said. ‘Obviously, controlling tempo has helped us.‘And everybody says, ‘Your scores are down because you’re controlling tempo.’ And that is true. But the possessions that we have to defend — and they’re fewer offensively — we’re really defending.’Brey said sophomore guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant have also given the Fighting Irish a backcourt with more speed than he has ever had in his 12 years at the school.Fifth-year senior guard Scott Martin is a great anchor and team defender, Brey said. Also standing out this year is 6-foot-9 junior forward Jack Cooley, who is averaging more than 14 points and 10 rebounds per game.Cooley has given the Fighting Irish a presence in the frontcourt and grabs ‘just about every rebound,’ Brey said.And although Brey doesn’t count himself among the top choices for Big East Coach of the Year, he’s making a strong campaign, as his team is on an eight-game winning streak and has overcome its early season struggles and a key injury to its experienced co-captain.Maybe at the end of the year Brey will have his own streak of two consecutive Big East Coach of the Year awards with two Fighting Irish teams that have completely different identities.‘I think the defensive identity has kind of been lost in the tempo we’re playing offensively, but it’s been very solid,’ he said.Big East game of the weekNo. 10 Marquette (22-5, 11-3) at West Virginia (17-10, 7-7)Friday, 9 p.m., ESPNIt’s no secret that West Virginia has been struggling lately. The Mountaineers have lost five of its last seven games. And the path doesn’t get any easier, as West Virginia gets No. 20 Notre Dame on Wednesday and No. 10 Marquette on Friday.Senior forward Kevin Jones and senior guard Darryl Bryant need help from their teammates to keep WVU’s postseason hopes alive. Jones is averaging 20.4 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, while Bryant is scoring 16.7 points per game. They average about 37 points per game, more than half of the team’s total points each game.Marquette is 10-1 in its last 11 games, with the lone blemish coming in the form of a 17-point loss to Notre Dame Feb. 4. Darius Johnson-Odom is averaging 18.6 points per game, whileforward Jae Crowder is averaging 16.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. The two seniors are the only two Golden Eagles scoring in double [email protected] Commentscenter_img Published on February 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm Contact Jon: [email protected]last_img